Viability of new construction in historic district

4 Replies | Houston, Texas

Hello everyone, 

I am trying to gauge the viability of pursuing a new construction project in a historic district in Houston. From my limited understanding, a Certificate of Appropriateness is necessary for approval on any new construction. I'm not sure how smoothly the process would go with the city or how far I can push the criterion. 

I see the following criterion (https://www.houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/Hi...): 

The distance from the property line of the front and side walls, porches, and exterior features of any proposed new construction must be compatible with the distance from the property line of similar elements of existing contributing structures in the context area.

The exterior features of new construction must be compatible with the exterior features of existing contributing structures in the context area.

The scale and proportions of the new construction, including the relationship of the width, overall height, eave height, foundation height, porch height, roof shape and roof pitch, and other dimensions to each other, must be compatible with the typical scale and proportions of existing contributing structures in the context area unless special circumstances, such as an atypical use, location or lot size, warrant an atypical scale and proportions.

The height of the new construction must not be taller than the typical height of existing contributing structures in the context areas unless special circumstances , such as an atypical use, location or lot size warrant an atypical height, except that:

a. design guidelines for an individual historic district may provide that a new construction with two stories may be constructed in a context area with only one-story contributing structures as long as the first story of the new construction has proportions compatible with the contributing structures in the context area, and the second story has similar proportions to the first story; and

b. A new construction shall not be constructed with more than one story in a historic district that is comprised entirely of one-story contributing structures, except as provided for in design guidelines for an individual historic district.;
Please refer to the individual Historic District pages for further details on what’s appropriate for each district.

Can someone with some experience please help me gauge the viability of this? We would like to build townhomes, but it seems that may not be possible as none of the contributing properties are townhomes. Assuming we do build a SFH instead, I'm wondering how it was dealing the city and getting approved. Hope this question is specific enough for anyone who can answer :). Still doing more research now.

@Stefan Stankovic

Hi Stefan I'm not going to be the best to weigh in on this but I'll try.

My limited experience with going through various application meetings and looking into applying for variances is that it is often a different mindset, temperament, and patience level in dealing with these types of projects (and committees) as compared with the norm to be successful as a real estate investor.

I have not built subject to historical area requirements however have talked with a couple people that have.  From my understanding the folks that do this often stay focused in those areas as the amount you have invested in the relationships, knowledge, and familiarity advantages grow.  

There's an additional layer of scrutiny, and cost associated with these projects.  One might say, on the upside, that they can provide one of the biggest benefits to a community, however.

All else equal these types of projects typically take longer, as well.

Originally posted by @Jim Goebel :

@Stefan Stankovic

Hi Stefan I'm not going to be the best to weigh in on this but I'll try.

My limited experience with going through various application meetings and looking into applying for variances is that it is often a different mindset, temperament, and patience level in dealing with these types of projects (and committees) as compared with the norm to be successful as a real estate investor.

I have not built subject to historical area requirements however have talked with a couple people that have.  From my understanding the folks that do this often stay focused in those areas as the amount you have invested in the relationships, knowledge, and familiarity advantages grow.  

There's an additional layer of scrutiny, and cost associated with these projects.  One might say, on the upside, that they can provide one of the biggest benefits to a community, however.

All else equal these types of projects typically take longer, as well.

Thanks for your your response Jim. After some further research and discussions with builders, it seems the extra scrutiny is almost impossible to circumvent. For now I'll see if I can get some of the properties exempted somehow or I can find a builder interested in the area. If you ever speak with those builders focused on the historical district again and they are looking for someone to wholesale them lots or partner with them on a build, please send them my way! 

Stefan,

I'm thinking we met a while back at a BP meetup. I'm an investor/Builder and have worked a good deal within historic districts. Its not an easy process, and each neighborhood is different on their HOA approval of the plans before they even go to the commission for review/approval. If you really want to build townhomes, then you're sure to piss off those who serve on the board that hold your pass for approval. It can be done, but historic districts often have minimum lot size requirements, etc. that preclude such development.

I've got a few lots that I'm building on early next year in Historic district areas (but not designated as contributing) and would entertain your wholesale or partner idea depending on the lot. I've got three townhomes projects going right now and just said no to another, and I don't get super excited about them as investments at current conditions.

Shoot me a message if you'd like to chat.

2nd Jonathan's response. 

We work in a HD where there are no official guidelines which creates a huge ambiguity when submitting plans for approval to the local board. The first (and most painful) step is the board of the HD in which you are located. Districts that have approved guidelines seem to be somewhat easier to deal with. A non-contributing lot/structure is preferable, and really the only thing I would purchase in a HD, unless a contributing home already has an attractive floorplan.

Good luck! Feel free to shoot a msg if you want to chat further.